When thinking of the fall colors, it’s easy for one’s mind to travel to the spectacular, quintessential views of New England and the cool, crisp air of New Hampshire and Vermont. The country roads gently traversing the storied colonial hills of America’s first heartland have been host to many a visitor to the region.
But what if those similar views and similar adventures can be had in a historic area that is hidden right out in the open and just a close day’s drive away? What if Ohio’s own scenic wonderland of Southeast Ohio and the Hocking Hills could take you away to those spectacular fall views?
Traveling to Logan and the Hocking Hills, it’s easy to get lost in the vast areas and myriad of activities available starting September and right on through October. Nearby Nelsonville—and further down U.S. 33, Ohio University’s hometown of Athens—provides very similar results for a traveling couple on a romantic weekend getaway or the growing family taking in the world one mile’s breathtaking view at a time.
It is in a traveler’s great interest to first make a stop at the Hocking Hills Visitor’s Center (Website: www.explorehockinghills.com; Phone: 1-800-HOCKING) off Ohio Route 664, less than a mile away from U.S. 33 on the north end of Logan. There, friendly volunteers will assist with the area events of the weekend (or weekday—the fun doesn’t end on the weekends!), attractions, parks, shopping and much more. The Athens area also has many events and attractions, and the friendly visitor center operated by the Athens County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (Website: www.athensohio.com; Phone: 1-800-878-9767) is just as valuable of a resource too.
Some of the more notable events of the region include the 17th Annual Paw Paw Festival, Appalachian Color in the Hills Festival, Ohio Smoked Meat & Barbecue Festival, Annual Hocking Hills Indian Run, The Plains Indian Mound Festival, Starbrick Clay National Cup Show —plus many more!
A drive along Ohio’s “Windy 9,” a curvy, care-free escape through the hill country is, of course, a given—not to mention the views that can be had along the backroads off the state highways. Those county road drives are among the best without question!
But in addition to the obligatory leaf drives, what else is one to do? The area boasts of many activities, including the world-famous Hocking Hills State Parks, providing some of the more amazing natural scenes Ohio has to offer—Cedar Falls, Old Man’s Cave, Rock House, Cantwell Cliffs, Ash Cave. Then there are the man-made (or human-assisted) but still great activities like canoeing the tranquil Hocking River (with two top-notch canoe liveries at your service), cruising the zip lines of Hocking Hills Canopy Tours, biking/walking the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway or Moonville Tunnel Trail, taking in a relaxing guided horseback trail ride, culturally-stimulating art walks, plays and musicals at Stuart’s Opera House—and that’s just scratching the surface.
Another must-do activity while in the region is a train ride aboard one of Ohio’s top tourist trains. The all-volunteer-operated-and-managed Hocking Valley Scenic Railway operates trains every Saturday and Sunday through October before taking most of November off in preparation for an equally-busy season. Following the November hiatus, the trains travel the rails once more before the close of the operating season for the annual—and very popular—Santa Trains and, later, the New Year’s Eve Train—with an impressive fireworks display. In October, the schedule expands out into the weekdays, offering more options to see the leaves via train. The quaint depot is located in the historic town of Nelsonville, once an industrial center of Ohio. Once aboard, the diesel-powered train—a history lesson itself—takes passengers along an approximately two-hour round-trip ride along the Hocking River Valley through Haydenville, another brick and clay tile center. Historic sites, events, anecdotes and the area’s current active industries are pointed out along the way via the on-board live narration. Fares vary on fall trips and special event trains (such as the All-Caboose Train, Labor Day Train, and Robbery Train). The Robbery Train, offered three times throughout the year, is one of the most popular events of the schedule and always sells out. Kids under the age of 3 years old do ride for free on every train (unless otherwise specified). Food and drinks aren’t provided but are permitted on the train. Pets, however, are not permitted except for certified service animals. Group rates are available as well for non-special event trains. A vintage steam locomotive is scheduled to be put back into service soon, so you’ll want to keep tabs on that as well. But for now, it’s safe to assume that one of the equally-historic diesels will be pulling the train during a visit. Many cabooses and other railroad cars, including an impressive snow plow, are also available to see around the depot while you wait for the train. Information on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway can be found at www.hockingvalleytrain.org or by calling 740-249-1452. The non-profit group is also very active on social media, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/hvsry), Twitter (@hvscenicrailway), and Instagram (@hvscenicrailway). It’s a lasting experience not to be missed!
Food options are as varied as the area, from fast food to true local establishments, one won’t go hungry for sure. Just a small sampling of local eateries include The Boot Grille, Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery, Kiser’s Barbeque, Avalanche Pizza, Caleb’s Coffee, Casa Nueva, Millstone Southern Smoked BBQ, The Olde Dutch Restaurant, and Tammy’s Country Kitchen. By no means is the list comprehensive but its easy to get a picture of what’s available.
Lodging? Even more plentiful and varied, it’s much easier to just log on to the Hocking Hills Tourism Association’s website (www.explorehockinghills.com) and the website of the Athens County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (www.athensohio.com).
So, that trip to New England this fall? The close-to-home enticement of Southeast Ohio is arguably much more compelling and provides a charming escape with Southern-style hospitality, great cultural events, amazing natural beauty, and a rich history that rivals any region in America. Without a doubt, it is an experience that will have you making this regional visit a late-year vacation tradition for many years to come!